Great Lakes region is resource rich, so why aren’t cities ‘greener’?


By Anastasia Pirrami

The Great Lakes region has plenty of natural resources, yet the West Coast dominates a recent ranking of environmental policies of the nation’s 100 most populous cities.

A recent report from WalletHub, “2022’s Greenest Cities in America,ranked Buffalo, Madison, Cincinnati and Milwaukee among the Great Lakes region’s best for engaging in cleaner, more sustainable habits.

Green is a measure of environmental sustainability. Green practices, attitudes, and living refer to cleaner, more sustainable habits that preserve the planet, according to Wallet Hub, a financial advising website.

The top five cities in the Great Lakes states and their national rankings are; Buffalo (13), Madison (17), Cincinnati (33), Milwaukee (51) and Chicago (61). New York City is 26 but it is not a Great Lakes city, although it is in a Great Lakes state.

Many cities in the Great Lakes region appear in the middle of the rankings. The remaining cities in the Great Lakes states are ranked nationally as the following: Indianapolis (63), Toledo (64), Cleveland (70), Columbus (71), Fort Wayne (76), and Detroit (89).

You can look up a populous city’s ranking here.

“The Great Lakes states are resource rich,” said Heather McCombs, a lecturer in sustainability management at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, and a contributing expert to the report.

The study measures the cities’ environment, transportation, energy sources, and lifestyle & policy. The four dimensions were expert-evaluated using numerous weighted metrics, and graded on a 100-point scale representing the greenest practices and policies, Wallet Hub said. The dimensions also contained subcategories that measured their respective metrics. For example, the environment dimension included subcategories such as air-quality index, water quality, light pollution level, and more, according to the report.

Resource scarcity, liberal or conservative politics, and city councils and mayors, can determine how green a city is, McCombs said.

San Diego landed the first place spot as the country’s greenest city. Almost all of the West Coast cities ranked within the top 30.

That may be because their resources are among the most threatened, McCombs said.

The West Coast has been driven by water scarcity for a very long time and right now, it’s even more critical,” McCombs said. “And then they have always been historically very liberal with Democrats in their population makeup. So then if you have that history of years of resource scarcity, which drives sustainability from the beginning, and you have your left leaning political makeup, then you have the perfect component to create a very pro-environmental left leaning city council and mayor.”

When all three of those forces line up over decades, that is why the West Coast dominates the list compared to Great Lakes states, she said. But two Midwestern cities that do a great job in their own green journeys are Madison and Milwaukee.

In three of the four dimensions, Madison is ranked higher than almost all of its fellow Great Lakes states’ cities. It is ranked fifth in environment, seventh in transportation, and 29th in lifestyle & policy.

Milwaukee did not rank quite as well nationally, but it placed 28th in transportation and 35th in environment. The high rankings in the subcategories, explains why these two cities placed higher than most of the other Midwest cities.

“I would say what the Great Lakes in the Midwest are doing great at is water quality,” McCombs said.

Milwaukee is the headquarters for one of the biggest water non government organizations in the country called The Water Council. The organization focuses on water conservation, quality and research.

The difference between Madison and Milwaukee, and the other Midwestern populous cities is that they have decades of left-leaning political makeup, McCombs said.

Because the Great Lakes states are resource rich compared to other regions in the U.S., there has not been an urgency that has focused them on conservation of resources over decades, McCombs said.

While the Great Lakes region has an abundance of natural resources, that abundance has led to irresponsible behavior in the past in terms of dumping into and polluting lakes and things of that nature, said Jeff Johnston, a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

“That may be one reason why this ranking found some shortcomings in the Great Lakes area,” Johnston said. “But I think that the public attitude of caring for the environment is something that certainly dominates policy and public opinion now.”

His agency advances green initiatives such as providing grants to communities, Johnston said. It announced grants of nearly $1 million to support the largest expansion of recycling in Detroit history as part of a public-private collaboration to increase recycling statewide.

But green improvements like that didn’t get counted by WalletHub. The study did not account for recycling because the types and sizes of recycling facilities vary widely by city, said Wallet Hub. Therefore they are unable to include (due to the lack of comparable city-level data) metrics that either measure the availability of recycling programs or the amount of waste recycled in each city, although recycling is vital to the sustainability efforts of each city, according to the article.

Detroit ranked at 89th nationally and 12th in the Great Lakes region.

Detroit is improving its green status with state help and other partners, Johnston said.   He expects that Detroit would be ranked higher if another ‘green’ study was conducted in the near future.

Overall, the Great Lakes region cities have been implementing practices and initiatives to be more green, Jonnston said. However, people need to remember that although the region is resource rich, it is not limitless.

It requires care and stewardship to make sure they are available for future generations, he said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *